Fly Fishing Jazz: The Monk Goes Fly Fishing

February 23, 2012 By: Kirk Deeter

Thelonius Monk

Thelonius Monk, Wikipedia image

I GRABBED THIS LITTLE BIT of inspiration courtesy of “Lists of Note.” Turns out that iconic jazz icon/pianist Thelonious Monk (who died in 1982) offered some lasting advice in list form to saxophonist Steve Lacy, way back in 1960.

As a sax player myself, I think Monk’s wisdom is, to this day, spot on for the jazz musician. Not surprisingly (to me anyway), his comments and observations easily apply to fly fishing as well.  So I put together some “angles” for Monk’s advice.  Check it out…

Monk: Just because you’re a drummer doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.

The Fly Fishing Angle (henceforth FFA): We should all keep beat with the show—understand, and keep pace with what’s unfolding around you.

Monk: Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.

FFA: Have your mind synched up with what your casting arm is doing at all times.

Monk: Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!

FFA: Quit splashing and fumbling and futzing around, and put the casts where they matter.

Monk: Make the drummer sound good.

FFA: Time yourself to the beat of the river, and make your performance reflect positively on the natural environment.

Monk: Discrimination is important.

FFA: Cast dry flies, whenever and wherever you think that’s possible.

Thelonius Monk NotesMonk: You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?

FFA: You must walk the hard miles, knee-deep in water, and pay attention in order to understand anything that can and should happen by way of the fancy loops you throw overhead… you dig?

Monk: All reet!

FFA: Not quite sure—working on this one—but if you find it in the river, go with it!

Monk: Monk always know….

FFA: Have confidence. And play/cast with your head, rather than your body.

Monk: It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.

FFA: It must always be feeding time, otherwise, the fish won’t eat. (But that doesn’t always have to happen at night.)

Monk: Let’s lift the band stand!!

FFA: Let’s lift the rocks, and the water—endeavor to be supernatural as you fish!!

Monk: I want to avoid the hecklers.

FFA: Don’t read the message boards, or too many blogs (at least not seriously).

Monk: Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!

FFA: Let the river dictate the melody, and fall in where and when you think you can have the best effect.

Monk: The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.

FFA: The presentation (how your flies behave after they hit the water) is the part that makes the cast look good.

Monk: Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.

FFA: Don’t cast all the time, willy-nilly. Make every cast count, and understand that waiting and watching is as important (or more so) than shooting your line.

Monk: Always leave them wanting more.

FFA: Don’t hammer a run into submission.

Monk: A note can be as small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.

FFA: Know when to spoon-feed the morsel fly, and when to throw the big enchilada.

Monk: Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.

FFA: Fish in all seasons—dirty water, high water, whatever. Good fishing is not born of merely throwing dry fly casts in perfect conditions.

Monk: When you’re swinging, swing some more!

FFA: When you’re “groovin’” don’t be afraid to switch bugs, try new techniques, and teach yourself some new lessons. (The same fish, the same way, is no lesson at all.)

Monk: What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!

FFA: Don’t step in a river unless you’re ready to perform (though what you really wear doesn’t matter at all).

Monk: Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play, & to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.

FFA: Fish often, and fish hard. Be a “rehearsal” angler—it isn’t always about the show.

Monk: You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, But in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo.)

FFA: Be a player. Fear no cast.

Monk: Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.

FFA:  Don’t listen to any of the bogus “rules” put forth by the “gurus” of fly fishing.  There is a way—your own way—and you may indeed be your best teacher.

Monk: They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.

FFA:  Fly fishers can always learn from people who are normally excluded from the conversation, including gear-chuckers, beginners, and people who aren’t considered “cool.”